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The 2006 Season Preview - Part 3 07 Mar 2006

Takuma Sato (JPN) Super Aguri SA05 runs in revised bodywork for the first time. Formula One Testing, Silverstone, England, 27 February 2006. World © Bumstead/Sutton Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault R26. Formula One Testing, Jerez, Spain, 10 January 2006. World ©  Patching/Sutton Alex Wurz (AUT) Williams test driver. Formula One Testing, Valencia, Spain, 31 January - 3 February 2006. World ©  Capilitan/Sutton Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota TF106. Formula One Testing, Barcelona, Spain, 28 November - 2 December 2005. World ©  Capilitan/Sutton Adrian Newey (GBR) Red Bull Chief Technical Officer. Formula One Testing, Jerez, Spain, 11 January 2006. World ©  Hartley/Sutton

We take a look at who might be hot - and who’s probably not - this year in our team-by-team rundown of the 2006 contenders, from new 11th team, Super Aguri, up to reigning champions Renault…

Renault
Fernando Alonso, Giancarlo Fisichella

Renault have set the pace for much of the winter testing, and Fernando Alonso, Giancarlo Fisichella and new test driver Heikki Kovalainen have all praised the performance of the new R26 and its RS26 V8 engine. Reliability has been good, and so has the speed, suggesting that the world champions are very well placed to defend their constructors’ and drivers’ titles.

McLaren
Kimi Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya

For some time McLaren’s new MP4-21 had to be reined in as the new Mercedes-Benz FO 108S V8 proved unreliable. However, the Valencia test in the middle of February saw Raikkonen set what at the time was the fastest lap of the winter, and Montoya was also very quick. Renault’s Pat Symonds left suggesting that the dramatic chrome and red McLaren will now be a major threat right from the start.

Ferrari
Michael Schumacher, Felipe Massa

Ferrari’s test form has been patchy, and the fact that they have persevered for so long with an F2004 with restricted V10 as well as the new 248 F1 and its 056 V8 engine has led to all sorts of speculation about what cars the Scuderia will field in Bahrain. The new car has had reliability issues, but has been fast at times on its new Bridgestone tyres. Neither Schumacher nor Ferrari can ever be underestimated, but it is not yet clear where they will be in the initial pecking order. The other fascinating aspect will be how well Massa shapes up as number two.

Toyota
Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli

Toyota showed off a completely new aero package on their TF106 at Vallelunga recently, and a B-spec car is already under way for Monaco. That’s the sort of commitment the team are bringing to their 2006 campaign after an impressive step up in 2005, but it remains to be seen whether they can achieve the wins that are very much a key part of their ambitious plans for the new season.

Williams
Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg

There is great confidence at the reborn Williams team, where Patrick Head says that wins are not out of the question for 2006. “Winning is oxygen,” Frank Williams said at the launch of the new FW28, and he, Head and everyone else at Grove have been very impressed by the reliability and power of Cosworth’s CA2006 V8. Of all the ‘second-tier’ teams behind Renault, McLaren and Honda, who have shown much of their hands in testing, the newly Bridgestone-shod Williams could be the darkest horse in the early races.

Honda
Rubens Barrichello, Jenson Button

When Honda set their mind to winning, they win. That is the clear message from the past. And Frank Williams, who knows about these things, admits that he is very worried about the threat from the Japanese team. Everywhere that the new RA106 has run, it has been fast and reliable, so has its RA806E V8. In Button and Barrichello, Honda arguably have one of the strongest driver line-ups, and both say the new car is a big step up aerodynamically from last year’s BAR 007. Together with Renault and McLaren, Honda are one of the pre-season favourites.

Red Bull
David Coulthard, Christian Klien

There is no doubt about Dietrich Mateschitz’s commitment to success in Formula One racing, as evidenced by his sizeable investment in Red Bull Racing, the purchase and rebranding of Minardi as Scuderia Toro Rosso, and his subsequent hiring of former Williams and McLaren design guru, Adrian Newey and key staff from other teams. It will be a while before Newey’s influence is really felt, but he is believed already to have solved the overheating issues that initially affected the new Ferrari-engined RB2.

BMW Sauber
Nick Heidfeld, Jacques Villeneuve

The marriage of convenience between BMW and Sauber seems to be working very well, with the respective teams from Munich and Hinwil working harmoniously. The inside information from the team is that while no one area is fantastic, all of them are good, and the new BMW Sauber F1.06 has shown good speed and reliability in all of its tests. As an added bonus to the team, test driver Robert Kubica had shown a strong turn of pace, too.

Midland
Tiago Monteiro, Christijan Albers

Now rebranded as Midland, MF1 Racing is the first Russian-registered Formula One team and there is evidence of significant investment after the first tentative season in 2005 when Alex Schnaider took over Jordan. The Midland M16 is a much-needed new car, powered by Toyota’s new V8. One of the fascinating aspects of the 2006 season will be to see if this independent team can haul itself into contention with BMW Sauber, Red Bull and Toro Rosso.

Toro Rosso
Vitantonio Liuzzi, Scott Speed

Born out of Minardi and still based in Faenza, Toro Rosso have benefited from the injection of much-needed investment from Dietrich Mateschitz’s Red Bull enterprise and the arrival of co-owner Gerhard Berger. There is a new spirit within the team, and they have two swift drivers, Tonio Liuzzi and American Scott Speed. Red Bull Racing engineers rate the former very highly and his speed in Bahrain recently, when he split the Hondas, suggests that the restricted Cosworth V10 might be a formidable weapon in the right hands.

Super Aguri
Takuma Sato, Yuji Ide

It’s a long time since there was a team registered in Japan, but ex-Formula One racer Aguri Suzuki also has a base at Leafield in the UK. This is the former TWR and Arrows factory in which the team’s current car, the SA05, was first built as an Arrows A23 back in 2002, and managing director Daniele Audetto fulfilled a similar role there, too. It has been a major struggle for the team just to get to the grid in Bahrain, and they will clearly take time to find their level. In the background, however, Mark Preston and his team are hard at work on the all-new SA06 which Suzuki hopes will be ready in time to make its debut when the European season kicks off in April at Imola.

Michelin and Bridgestone
Last year the French company wiped the floor with the Japanese, their tyres maintaining their performance much better over the course of a race. Since then, Toyota and Williams have switched to Bridgestone, race tyre changes are back, and the signs from testing are that the situation has become more equal. In fact, if you talk to some of the Michelin runners they will tell you that Bridgestone have a slight advantage; hold the conversation the other way round, and word is that Michelin may still be slightly ahead.

Click here to go back to Part 1 of our Season Preview.
Click here to go back to Part 2 of our Season Preview.
Click here for our detailed 2006 team and driver profiles.